Tuesday, July 26, 2005

C.S. Lewis: Mere Apologist

In the June/July issue of First Things Avery Cardinal Dulles presents a synopsis of C.S. Lewis' life and thought. For those not yet familiar with Lewis (and, believe it or not, there are a few), it makes a good introduction:

C.S. Lewis was a man of many parts. His novels, allegories, and children's books achieved enormous popularity. He excelled as a spiritual writer and had some standing as a poet. In the academic field he was competent in philosophy, a master of the Greek and Latin classics, and outstanding as a literary critic.

But he is best known today as an apologist, probably the most successful Christian apologist of the twentieth century. Forty and more years after his death, his influence remains unabated. His works are read by Protestants and Catholics with equal relish. Enough books have been written on Lewis to fill several shelves of a bookcase.

Dulles gives a fairly comprehensive overview of Lewis' work. He concludes by summarizing, from his own perspective, Lewis' relative strengths and weaknesses:

Lewis' eminent success as an apologist is due to several factors. A convert from atheism, he had experienced the difficulties from within and had discovered by experience what arguments could speak to unbelievers. He had a great gift for debating and wrote in a pleasing English style, free of heavy and technical language. He handled profound problems in simple words that could be understood by readers with no special training. Gifted with a lively imagination, he had an extraordinary facility for finding apt analogies from common life to illustrate abstract philosophical points. He was humble and unpretentious, willing to recognize the limits of his own knowledge. He concentrated on basic Christian beliefs and usually managed to avoid involvement in intra-Christian controversies.

The limits of Lewis are the flip side of his merits. Speaking to a broad and unsophisticated audience, he did not satisfy the scruples of soacademicianans, who found that he oversimplified complex problems. Avoiding technical terminology, he often failed to make distinctions that would be necessary to do justice to the subject matter. Having embraced no particular philosophical system other than a vague sort of Platonism, he frequently argued without the rigor expected in professional philosophical and theo logical circles.

As an apologist, moreover, Lewis tends to concentrate on the rational element in the approach to faith. But as he indicates in his own conversion story, it is not we alone who find the true faith. The God for whom we are searching has to find us, and we have to let Him do so. To speak too much as though faith were the result of a process of reasoning is a hazard built into apologetics. If Lewis had been willing to venture more deeply into theological waters, he might have spoken more extensively about the role of God in the process of conversion. Theologians in the great tradition show that divine grace influences even our initial perception of the evidences for Christianity. God'’s love, at work in our hearts, often enables us to synthesize data that might otherwise appear meaningless. It gives us what some theologians call the eyes of faith.For this reason the search for religious truth has to be accompanied by prayer.

As one might expect from a Catholic, Dulles' one lament is that Lewis, at least in his writings, appeared to hold a rather low view of church life and the sacraments. But Catholics probably think this is true of Protestants in general.

I believe C.S. Lewis is essential reading for any serious Christian. He had his flaws to be sure - all Christians do, and 2 Corinthians 4 teaches us that this is so that all men clearly see that it is God who is powerful, not man. The wonderful thing about Lewis is the extent to which his faith in Christ reached into every area of his life. He took seriously the command to "work out your faith."

He wanted to teach us to be philosophically consistent. And he did it all in a wonderfully warm and winsome way. Try to read the last few chapters of The Last Battle without weeping at the picture Lewis paints of the Christian's eternal destiny.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

London Attacked - Again

Fox News is reporting that bombs have gone off for a second time in the London subway system. An explosion on a commuter bus has been reported as well.

The BBC is calling the explosions "minor blasts".

Conservative Criticism of Roberts Nomination

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter has criticised President Bush's nomination of John Roberts for the Supreme Court, saying "Stealth nominees have never turned out to be a pleasant surprise for conservatives. Never. Not ever."

Coulter is not confident that Roberts is a tried-and-true opponent of Rowe v. Wade, either:

It means nothing that Roberts wrote briefs arguing for the repeal of Roe v. Wade when he worked for Republican administrations. He was arguing on behalf of his client, the United States of America. Roberts has specifically disassociated himself from those cases, dropping a footnote to a 1994 law review article that said:

"In the interest of full disclosure, the author would like to point out that as Deputy Solicitor General for a portion of the 1992-'93 term, he was involved in many of the cases discussed below. In the interest of even fuller disclosure, he would also like to point out that his views as a commentator on those cases do not necessarily reflect his views as an advocate for his former client, the United States."

This would have been the legal equivalent, after O.J.'s acquittal, of Johnnie Cochran saying: "Hey, I never said the guy was innocent. I was just doing my job."

Read it HERE.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Profile: Judge John G. Roberts

Most Americans may not be familiar with John Roberts (though we may all know someone by that name), but he's well known in Washington. He clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist, worked in the Reagan administration and was a deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration.

You can read his profile in the Washington Times by clicking

The Dems Will Fight

President Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts, lately of the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor was a pleasant surprise.

I was hoping that Bush would not bow to the political pressure to make gender the main criteria for his pick - to replace O'Connor with another woman. Bush and his advisors were clear-headed enough to decide on a nominee based on merit, philosophy of interpretation, and political realities.

Comments from the left last night were rather muted. Only Harry Reid's comments seemed ominous: "The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials, but that is not the end of our inquiry. The Senate must review Judge Roberts' record to determine if he has a demonstrated commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality and fairness."

Where will the battlelines on Roberts' conirmation be drawn? A piece in today's Washington Times sheds light:

In 1990, Judge Roberts co-wrote a legal brief that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 high court decision that made abortion a constitutional right.
"The court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion ... finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution," the brief said. "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."
But during his 2003 confirmation hearing, the judge said he would be guided by legal precedent.
"Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent," Judge Roberts told senators in May 2003.
In last night's announcement, Mr. Bush cited a 2001 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee from more than 140 members of the D.C. Bar, including a former counsel to two Democratic presidents.
"Although as individuals we reflect a wide spectrum of political party affiliation and ideology, we are united in our belief that John Roberts will be an outstanding federal court [of] appeals judge and should be confirmed by the United States Senate," the president cited the letter as saying.
Democrats and liberal advocacy groups will likely bring up several rulings and briefs from the judge's past. In private practice, Judge Roberts wrote a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Congress had failed to justify a Department of Transportation affirmative-action program.
During his tenure in the first Bush administration, Judge Roberts co-authored an amicus brief arguing that public high-school graduation programs could include religious ceremonies. The Supreme Court disagreed 5-4.
Also during his time in the first Bush administration, Judge Roberts helped argue before the court -- successfully this time -- that doctors and clinics receiving federal funds may not talk to patients about abortion.

To read the entire story, click HERE.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Why Five Points Can't Explain It All

In his introduction to John Owen's masterwork The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, J.I. Packer explains rather eloquently that the "five points" of Calvinism are not a sufficient explanation in themselves of all that Calvinism is:

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the ‘five points’ indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible—the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.

Packer further laments that the five points have hurt the Calvinist cause by making it appear as though it were mainly negative: Limited Atonement:

Then, in the second place, the ‘five points’ present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive evangelical values. The negative cast of the ‘five points’ is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel—that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

My hope is that Packer's introduction will be helpful to those who are wary of Calvinism and Calvinists. In my own experience I have seen two common reasons for this wariness: (1) Out-of-balance portrayals: the doctrines were explained to them by slash-and-burn types who congratulate themselves for being "intellectual" enough to accept Calvinism, or a prejudicial treatment by a pastor or professor or Bible teacher, (2) A lack of information: an individual's own only slight exposure to the doctrine's of sovereign grace has left them with a baseless distaste for what seems to be extra-biblical, or at least unnecessary.

I believe this piece by Packer, if read with an open mind, can be of great help in dispelling some of the misunderstandings.

To read the entire piece, click HERE.

My Soul Thirsts for You

From my devotional time this morning:

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.

I stretch out my hands to you;
My soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down
to the pit.

Let me hear in the morning of
your steadfast love, for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge!

Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

Psalm 143:5-10, ESV

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Further Thoughts on Harry Potter

Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, wrote an article on the Harry Potter phenomenon in the January 2000 edition of First Things. At the time only three books in the series had been released. Three books later(the sixth book will be released Saturday), the article is still instructive.

Jacobs faces head-on the antipathy many Christians feel for things magical, wanting to avoid any dabbling whatsoever with the New Age movement or the occult. He acknowledges that this carefulness is good and right, and then goes to great pains in the remainder of the article to prove that in the case of Harry Potter, these reservations are ill-founded.

Jacobs points out that only in recent centuries has "experimental science" become distinct from "magic". The divorcing of the two concepts, Jacobs maintains, is due to the fact that experimental science has proved to be a valid and reliable means of solving problems, while magic has not. The distinction, he says, was not always so clear.

An excerpt:

The place to begin is to invoke one of the great achievements of twentieth–century historical scholarship: the eight volumes Lynn Thorndike published between 1929 and 1941 under the collective title A History of Magic and Experimental Science. And it is primarily the title that I wish to reflect upon here. In the thinking of most modern people, there should be two histories here: after all, are not magic and experimental science opposites? Is not magic governed by superstition, ignorance, and wishful thinking, while experimental science is rigorous, self–critical, and methodological? While it may be true that the two paths have diverged to the point that they no longer have any point of contact, for much of their existence—and this is Lynn Thorndike’s chief point—they constituted a single path with a single history. For both magic and experimental science are means of controlling and directing our natural environment (and people insofar as they are part of that environment). C. S. Lewis has made the same assertion:

[Francis Bacon’s] endeavor is no doubt contrasted in our minds with that of the magicians: but contrasted only in the light of the event, only because we know that science succeeded and magic failed. That event was then still uncertain. Stripping off our knowledge of it, we see at once that Bacon and the magicians have the closest possible affinity. . . . Nor would Bacon himself deny the affinity: he thought the aim of the magicians was "noble."

It was not obvious in advance that science would succeed and magic fail: in fact, several centuries of dedicated scientific experiment would have to pass before it was clear to anyone that the "scientific" physician could do more to cure illness than the old woman of the village with her herbs and potions and muttered charms. In the Renaissance, alchemists were divided between those who sought to solve problems—the achievement of the philosopher’s stone, for example (or should I say the sorcerer’s stone?)—primarily through the use of what we would call mixtures of chemicals and those who relied more heavily on incantations, the drawing of mystical patterns, and the invocation of spirits.

At least, it seems to us that the alchemists can be so divided. But that’s because we know that one approach developed into chemistry, while the other became pure magic. The division may not have been nearly so evident at the time, when (to adapt Weber’s famous phrase) the world had not yet become disenchanted. As Keith Thomas has shown, it was "the triumph of the mechanical philosophy" of nature that "meant the end of the animistic conception of the universe which had constituted the basic rationale for magical thinking." Even after powerful work of the mechanistic scientists like Gassendi the change was not easily completed: Isaac Newton, whose name is associated more than any other with physical mechanics, dabbled frequently in alchemy.

This history provides a key to understanding the role of magic in Joanne Rowling’s books, for she begins by positing a counterfactual history, a history in which magic was not a false and incompetent discipline, but rather a means of controlling the physical world at least as potent as experimental science. In Harry Potter’s world, scientists think of magic in precisely the same way they do in our world, but they are wrong. The counterfactual "secondary world" that Rowling creates is one in which magic simply works, and works as reliably, in the hands of a trained wizard, as the technology that makes airplanes fly and refrigerators chill the air—those products of applied science being, by the way, sufficiently inscrutable to the people who use them that they might as well be the products of wizardry. As Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, "Any smoothly functioning technology gives the appearance of magic."

For the entire article, click HERE.

Ruler of All Things

From my Bible reading last night:

The prayer of David after the offering for the Temple.

Praise be to you, O LORD,
God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks
and praise your glorious name.
But who am I, and who are my people,
that we should be able to give as generously as this?
Everything comes from you,
and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

I Chronicles 29:10-14

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Institutes of the Christian Religion

You can find the complete text of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion at Reformed.org. Here people can read Calvin's words for themselves, instead of assuming they know what he said and what he meant by what he said, which, believe it or not, cannot be satisfactorily summed up in five concise points. I hope many will find this resource helpful in explaining the Reformed faith to their many good friends who are more Arminian in persuasion. You can access Reformed.org by clicking the title above.

Here is the text of Calvin's "Epistle to the Reader," the introduction to the Institutes:

In the First Edition of this work, having no expectation of the success which God has, in his goodness, been pleased to give it, I had, for the greater part, performed my office perfunctorily, as is usual in trivial undertakings. But when I perceived that almost all the godly had received it with a favour which I had never dared to wish, far less to hope for, being sincerely conscious that I had received much more than I deserved, I thought I should be very ungrateful if I did not endeavour, at least according to my humble ability, to respond to the great kindness which had been expressed towards me, and which spontaneously urged me to diligence. I therefore ask no other favour from the studious for my new work than that which they have already bestowed upon me beyond my merits. I feel so much obliged, that I shall be satisfied if I am thought not to have made a bad return for the gratitude I owe. This return I would have made much earlier, had not the Lord, for almost two whole years, exercised me in an extraordinary manner. But it is soon enough if well enough. I shall think it has appeared in good season when I perceive that it produces some fruit to the Church of God. I may add, that my object in this work was to prepare and train students of theology for the study of the Sacred Volume, so that they might both have an easy introduction to it, and be able to proceed in it, with unfaltering step, seeing I have endeavoured to give such a summary of religion in all its parts, and have digested it into such an order as may make it not difficult for any one, who is rightly acquainted with it, to ascertain both what he ought principally to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought to refer whatever is contained in it. Having thus, as it were, paved the way, I shall not feel it necessary, in any Commentaries on Scripture which I may afterwards publish, to enter into long discussions of doctrines or dilate on common places, and will, therefore, always compress them. In this way the pious reader will be saved much trouble and weariness, provided he comes furnished with a knowledge of the present work as an essential prerequisite. As my Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans will give a specimen of this plan, I would much rather let it speak for itself than declare it in words. Farewell, dear reader, and if you derive any fruit from my labours, give me the benefit of your prayers to the Lord.

Strasbourg, 1st August 1539.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Man's Disproportion

Yesterday I posted these verses from my personal devotions:

God] made the great lights,
His love endures fo

The sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.

The moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136:7-9

A further thought from Blaise Pascal on the glory of God in creation, and the smallness of man in proporiton to its vastness:

Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low objects which surround him. Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine point in comparison with that described by the stars in their revolution round the firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of conception than nature that of supplying material for conception. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond an imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination loses itself in that thought.

from Pensees, Section II, No. 72.

Christians and Harry Potter

Each time a new book or movie in the Harry Potter series is released, the debate over Christian participation revives. There are many good Christians who choose to abstain and work vigorously to convince others to do the same. What should we think?

I have my view. They are fantasy. They are set primarily in a world that can only be entered by taking a magic train from an invisible platform. Children understand this. The books do not encourage young readers to become wizards themselves.

Rather, J.K. Rowling has included an element in the books that discourages young readers from imagining that they themselves are wizards - her characters are born "magic" or "muggle" (non-magic). They themselves do not "become" wizards. They are born with special powers which they are trained to control and use for good at their wizarding school.

At any rate, fantasy stories have been an important medium for communicating Christian theology and virtues (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien!). Should we think of Rowling as following in the steps of Lewis and Tolkien? Some think so. Consider the links below. The first is written by John Granger (no relation to Hermione), who argues that Rowling is following the Inklings tradition. The second is an essay by Tolkien on the importance of "fairy stories".

Harry Potter and the Inklings: The Christian Meaning of the Chamber of Secrets

On Fairy Stories

Monday, July 11, 2005

Baptists and Elders

Mark Dever provides a convincing argument favoring a pluarlity of elders over the traditional pastor-deacons format familiar to most Baptists.

The factors contributing to the recent "sudden surge of interest" in the office of elder cited by Dever accurately reflect my own experiences, though my background is GARBC and FBFI, not SBC:

The first reason that I would suggest is that the idea of elders in local churches has prominent advocates and proponents from outside our Southern Baptist constituency. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, has for many years practiced and advocated having a plurality of elders lead his congregation. He is himself one of those elders. He has published a variety of things that touch on this, but perhaps most widely used is his little 1984 32-page booklet Answering The Key Questions about Elders. In 1991, John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, a Baptist General Conference church in Minneapolis, Minnesota also led his church to adopt a plural elder model of leadership, and has also written a 63-page booklet on this, Biblical Eldership (1999).

Even more broadly, Wayne Grudem’s popular 1994 Systematic Theology used in many of our seminaries states clearly that “there is quite a consistent pattern of plural elders as the main governing group in the New Testament churches.” His conclusions are that “First, no passage suggests that any church, no matter how small, had only one elder. The consistent New Testament pattern is a plurality of elders ‘in every church’ (Acts 14:23) . . . . Second, we do not see a diversity of forms of government in the New Testament church, but a unified and consistent pattern in which every church had elders governing it and keeping watch over it (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17; I Peter 5:2-3).” I should just add that when Grudem wrote this he was a member of a Southern Baptist church in Chicago with elders. Since its completion in 1985, Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology has been perhaps the most widely used textbook in Southern Baptist seminaries, and in many other evangelical schools. At its publication in the mid-1980’s, there had been few systematic theologies that gained wide usage published since Louis Berkhof’s Dutch Reformed work in the 1930’s. In Erickson’s section on the church, he carefully lays out Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Congregational polities, showing strengths and weaknesses. He gingerly advocates Congregationalism, though not with the vigor of such defenses by earlier divine-right Congregationalists like John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, nor even of the milder variety which inhabited the south in the 19th century—like W. B. Johnson and J. L. Reynolds. He also makes two qualifying statements that a more Presbyterian form of government will probably be needed either where the congregation becomes very large, or is filled with those who are more immature as Christians.

The second reason that I would suggest is more internal and pragmatic. There is and has been for some time, I think, a frustration with current structures in our congregations. Many of our churches have the sense that things are simply not working. Some churches led by a single pastor suffer under an authoritarian rule that is too much like the Gentile leadership Jesus forbade among us in Mark 10:42. Other times, young pastors have gone into churches and found them ossified, effectively ruled by either deacons, a nominating committee, a personnel committee, or some other group which has no Biblical standard of maturity in understanding and teaching the Scriptures. And for those churches where our congregational heritage is still valued, it is valued too often as an expression of a wrong, anti-Christian individualism, rather than as part of the corporate responsibility we will bear before the Lord. Furthermore, where baptismal and membership ages plunge lower than driver’s licenses, middle school or even pre-school, and where church membership (even of adults) requires nothing other than a one-time decision—no regular attendance, nor even communication—it cannot be surprising that meetings of members for church business become more and more ineffective. As I hope we will hear John Hammett explain tomorrow morning, “many Baptist churches have strayed so far from regenerate membership that they are incapable of responsible church government at the present time.” Congregationalism fades as membership expectations evaporate.

To read the complete article, click here.

His Love Endures Forever

From my devotional time this morning:

[God] made the great lights,
His love endures fo

The sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.

The moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136:7-9

"And they were all amazed at the majesty of God."

Luke 9:43

For pictures like the one above, visit hubblesite.org.

Good News

A letter written recently to a group of teenagers, encouraging them to embrace the Gospel as good news in every area of their lives:

You all know by now, from our study of Mark, that the word “Gospel” means “Good News”. We all like to receive good news. Sometimes, though, Gospel truth doesn’t seem like good news to us at first. Sometimes we think obedience to God will make us less happy, so we refuse to obey.

We must fight these thoughts by believing this fact: if the Gospel is Good News, then all of its commands must be Good News too. If you’ll think with me for just a moment, I think you’ll agree that this is true.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record the events of the Gospel – the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God – and include Jesus’ teaching that God is to reign as King of our hearts, that we are to leave all and take up our crosses and follow him, and that external religion is useless without inward reality. Jesus offers us freedom from the penalty, power, and presence of sin; and fellowship with God. This is certainly Good News!

The rest of the New Testament, from the book of Acts through Revelation, is Gospel too. It shows us how the Gospel reaches into every area of our lives. Nothing is left untouched. Manhood and womanhood, humility and modesty, dating and marriage – the New Testament contains clear teaching on all of them. The explanation of the Gospel in these books holds out to us the hope of a transformed life and deep and satisfying fellowship with God now and for eternity. This too is certainly Good News!

The great need of each of us, then, is grace to embrace the Gospel teaching. If the Gospel is Good News, then the standards it sets for us and the obedience it calls us to must also be Good News. We must not think that God is out to ruin our happiness.

When God says, “You shall do this, and you shall not do that,” he means it for our good. He longs to give us happiness far greater than we can possibly imagine - if we will only say “yes” to obedience! We will not always obey perfectly, but God is patient. He loves us and desires to teach us how to live.

Don’t be fooled by the world’s false offers of happiness – this God-given happiness is far greater than any we might secure for ourselves apart from him. He is very great, and very good.

This Sunday, we’ll be talking about modesty and humility. The Gospel teaching on these issues is clear. Will you be willing to embrace the commands of the Good News? Is God calling you to new obedience in modesty or humility? If so, embrace it! He is for you. God’s will is exactly what you would want if you could know all the facts. Let's each pray for a willing heart.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Rehnquist Out Too?

Rumors are swirling that Chief Justice William Rehnquist will announce his retirement when President Bush gets back this afternoon from the G8 Summit in Scotland.

A double-vacancy is a rare thing. It hasn't happened since 1971, when Rehnquist and Lewis F. Powell Jr. were appointed to the court by President Nixon.

What should be President Bush's strategy? Should he nominate one tried-and-true conservative and one moderate as a sort of compromise, or nominate two solid, strict constructionists?

In my opinion the latter is the better option. I think the Left will attempt to characterize Bush's nominees as far-right ideologs as a matter of political strategy, with no real interest in being passified by a moderate pick. In light of the political realities, he may as well nominate people he'd truly like to see on the court.

A story in today's Washington Post outlines Bush's options as they appear at the moment:

It would put a lot of pressure on the system if he retired now," said former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, another key outside strategist aiding the White House. "God, it would make it an interesting summer. It's going to be interesting enough as it is."

Even factoring Scalia out of the equation, Bush has different calculations for a chief justice than for O'Connor's seat. In looking for a chief justice, some White House advisers said, they would consider management experience and look for a deeper legal résumé than for an associate justice.

If Rehnquist does retire, the advisers said, then the White House must decide whether to fill his seat first and let a replacement for O'Connor go second as she indicated in her retirement letter that she would continue to serve until a successor is confirmed. And Bush must decide whether to package a staunch conservative with a less conservative nominee such as Gonzales in hopes of satisfying various constituencies enough to ease confirmation, or to favor a bolder approach by advancing two reliable conservatives.

If Rehnquist does not retire right away, Bush faces a similar choice, in that he could go with a conservative first and wait to nominate Gonzales for the next opening, or the other way around. But in picking an O'Connor replacement now, he would have to hold back the nominee he actually wants for chief justice.

"I may be totally wrong on this, but I think he means to change the court and that he would not be sending a balancer-type candidate," said Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and a leading conservative voice in Washington. "Now it could be that friendship with Gonzales outweighs that. I don't know. But in the discussions I've had with him, he seems generally committed to changing the composition of the court."

You can read the story in its entirety by clicking HERE.


A great place on the web for free mp3 sermons is SermonAudio.com.

They've got an interesting cross-section of old-time evangelicals and fundamentalists, including A.W. Tozer, Harry Ironside, D.L. Moody, A.J. Gordon, Billy Sunday, A.W. Pink, and others.

Needless to say, some of these guys minsistered before sound recording of sermons was common, so some of the files are recently-recorded readings of their sermons.

Just now I'm listening to a sermon by A.W. Tozer called "What is it to Accept Jesus?" In part, he says:

What about this easy acceptance? I say it's been fatal to millions. [They say] 'Accept Christ and your troubles are over, accept Christ and you're saved.' That's true, but it's presented in a manner that's untrue very often, because it makes the whole attitude wrong.

It puts Christ in an attitude standing hat in hand awaiting our pleasure, forgetting that He is the sovereign Lord and that he by a snap of his finger can turn worlds out of being or bring worlds into being...he is the sovereign Lord, second person of the Trinity, and he waits hat in hand for no man.

It's not what I think of him but what he thinks of me that's the most vital, fatal question that I can ask myself. What does Jesus Christ think of me and what is my relation to him? Always remember that instead of his applying to us [for acceptance], we apply to him. Instead of a Christ waiting meekly and modestly like a paperboy outside waiting for his quarter, Jesus Christ stands in his tall majesty, and you and I will either bow to him and accept him in the right sense of the word or we'll turn away and leave him forever.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Candidate: Will George Allen be the GOP Nominee in '08?

George Will wonders if perhaps Virginia Senator George Allen will surface as the GOP's top contender for the presidential nomination in 2008. Will seems to think Allen is a rising star in what is otherwise a very weak field of contenders.

Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, Will maintains, has been damaged politically by the Senate fillibuster compromise, which has also hurt John McCain BIG TIME among members of the Republican base. (I thought to myself in 2000, "If we can just beat McCain this time, we won't have to worry about him again, because he'll be so old by 2008." Guess I was wrong.)

Will describes Allen in glowing terms:

"He has the same name as his father, the late Hall of Fame head coach of the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins who was, to say no more, tightly wound, as coaches tend to be. If the son is similarly driven -- and he must be to embark on this marathon -- he conceals it beneath a demeanor akin to Ronald Reagan's, which was once described as ``Aw, shucks, I just stepped on my sneaker laces.'' Except there are no laces on Allen's cowboy boots, which go with the smokeless tobacco in the circular can in his pocket.

One of his father's mantras was ``Hit hard and good things will happen.'' The son, who as a University of Virginia graduate headed Young Virginians for Reagan in the 1976 nomination contest with President Ford, has Reagan's knack for expressing strong views in an unthreatening manner."

You can read George Will's article in its entirety when you click here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bible Reading Plan

I've found the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan from NavPress to be a very helpful tool. The daily reading is divided into four parts: a portion from the gospels (usually one incident or teaching session from the life of Jesus), a portion (usually a paragraph) from a New Testament letter, a Psalm, and two chapters from an Old Testament book.

Passages for Bible study often come from my Bible reading. I note puzzling or interesting passages, then return to them for further examination.

You can download the Discipleship Journal Bible reading plan at no charge here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Treasure to Trash, Zero to Hero

John Piper on the surpassing value of knowing Christ:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. Philippians 3:7-15

Paul has a way of playing your game, winning, and then saying the game is bunk. He does it, for example, in 2 Corinthians 11:21–12:11 where he lists his “superior” achievements and then says, “I have been a fool! You forced me to it” (2 Corinthians 12:11). In other words, I can play your game of measuring myself by your standards, win, and then call it all worthless. It is fool’s play.

He does it again here in Philippians 3. He warns the church to watch out for the evildoing dogs who mutilate the flesh (people who insist on circumcision as a way of getting right with God). The problem with these people is that they “put confidence in the flesh”—that is, they bank on their works for justification (vv. 2-3, cf. v. 9). So Paul says, OK let’s play that game for a moment. And then he lists his works of the flesh and knocks his opponents out of the ring with legal achievements. “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” Indeed he does.

Then come three of the best verses in all the Bible. In essence: the victory I just won in the contest of the flesh is a pile of garbage (the Greek is skubala, v. 8). And the reason he uses such a strong word (refuse!) is that the alternative is Christ. Compared to Christ, being the greatest Pharisee of his time was foul garbage.

But that is too vague. Paul is not vague. He does not simply say that compared to Christ legal achievements are garbage; he is more specific. He says that what is superior to moral and religious achievements is 1) knowing Christ, 2) gaining Christ, and 3) being found in Christ.

1. Knowing Christ. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8). “Knowing” here is not just knowing the fact that Jesus is Lord. It is the kind of knowing that prompts the phrase, “my Lord”! He knows the supreme Lord of the universe (see 2:9-11) as his Lord. So there are two aspects to Paul’s passion for Christ here. One is the rational and relational knowledge of the greatest person in the universe. Paul’s mind and heart are full of Christ. The other is that he belongs to Christ as subject to the all-ruling, all-protecting Lord. This is better than being at the top of any human heap.

2. Gaining Christ. “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (v. 8). “Gain” means get all that Christ is for us in heaven, not just on earth. Paul has already said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21), because “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:23). And he is about to say, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12). So it is clear that part of what makes human achievement a pile of garbage compared to Christ is that soon (and very soon!) he is going to meet the king—in a way far more full and intimate and stunning and satisfying than anything he has known here. And he has known so much of Christ here that the garbage verdict has been rendered on that alone.

3. Being found in Christ. “. . . and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (v. 9). Paul was overwhelmed by the fact that “in Christ”—that is, united to Christ by faith alone—he possessed a righteousness that was infinitely better than all his legal achievements could ever be. Paul knew he needed a righteous life in order to be accepted by God and in order to enjoy all the glories of Christ forever. He did not have such a righteousness in himself. He needed the free gift of righteousness from God himself. God gave it to him in Christ.

Therefore Jesus Christ was both the treasure he cherished and the one who provided the right to have the treasure. In Christ alone Paul had a right to know and gain Christ. And that is all he wanted. That is the gospel. This is what we mean at Bethlehem by Treasuring Christ Together. Christ alone is the ground of our acceptance with God and the goal of our heart’s desire. He is our righteousness and our reward. Compared to him (knowing him, gaining him, being found in him) all else is garbage.

By John Piper. ©Desiring God. Website:
www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 888.346.4700.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Summer Reading

My reading list for this summer. (* = finished)

A Journey to Vicotrious Praying by Bill Thrasher*

Living the Life God Has Planned by Bill Thrasher*

We Would See Jesus by Roy Hession*

Reclaiming Surrendered Ground by Jim Logan*

Passion & Purity by Elisabeth Elliot*

What's the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible by John Piper*

The Mark of a Man by Elisabeth Elliot

With Christ in the School of Obedience by Andrew Murray

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Future Grace by John Piper

Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust by Joshua Harris

1776 by David McCullough

What's on your list?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Is Good Theology Bad Business?

A New Article in World Magazine weighs the pros and cons of non-Christian publishers and distributors invading the world of Christian books, and their Christian counterparts targeting the secular market.
The disturbing trend from my perspective is that "caffeine-free" Christianity (books that minimize Gospel truths such as God's glory and God-centeredness, man's depravity, and the need for repentance and a faith in Jesus) seems to sell best - the kind that is more like "Chicken Soup" than "strong meat".

One reason I've launched this blog is to promote good theology - Biblical, God-centered and Christ-exalting - and to expose the bad theology. I want to help my friends and family - and whoever else might read here - navigate the waters of Christian thought. With so many resources to choose from, many laypeople just don't know which book to pick when they walk into their local Christian bookstore (or, according to World, Barnes & Noble). So maybe I can provide a measure of help.

It Begins

Buckle up! Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, announced her retirement today. She was appointed to the court by President Reagan.

On the left and the right the political battlelines are already being drawn.

Piper on the God-centeredness of God

John Piper reflects on the relationship between God's commitment to his own glory and his infinite love for his children:

For many years I have sought to understand how the God-centeredness of God relates to his love for sinners like us. Most people do not immediately see God's passion for the glory of God as an act of love. One reason for this is that we have absorbed the world's definition of love. It says: You are loved when you are made much of. In other words, love for someone means mainly making him or her central or important.

The main problem with this definition of love is that when you try to apply it to God's love for us, it distorts reality. God's love for us is NOT mainly his making much of us, but his giving us the ability to enjoy making much of him forever. In other words, God's love for us keeps God at the center. God's love for us exalts his value and our satisfaction in it. If God's love made us central and focused on our value, it would distract us from what is most precious, namely, himself. Love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God. Therefore God's love labors and suffers to break our bondage to the idol of self and focus our affections on the treasure of God.

I saw this afresh in the story of Lazarus' sickness and death.

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick." 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it." 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.

Notice three amazing things:

1) Jesus chose to let Lazarus die. Verse 6: "When He heard he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where he was." There was no hurry. His intention was not to spare the family grief, but to raise Lazarus from the dead.

2) He was motivated by a passion for the glory of God displayed in his own glorious power. Verse 4: "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."

3) Nevertheless, both the decision to let Lazarus die and the motivation to magnify God were expressions of love for Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Verse 5: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus . . . so he stayed . . . where he was."

Oh how many people today – even Christians – would murmur at Jesus for callously letting Lazarus die and putting him and Mary and Martha and others through the pain and misery of those days. And if they saw that this was motivated by Jesus' desire to magnify the glory of God, many would call this harsh or unloving. What this shows is how far above the glory of God most people value pain-free lives. For most people love is whatever puts human value and human well-being at the center. So Jesus' behavior is unintelligible to them.

But let us not tell Jesus what love is. Let us not instruct him how he should love us and make us central. Let us learn from Jesus what love is and what our true well-being is. Love is doing whatever you need to do to help people see and savor the glory of God forever and ever. Love keeps God central. Because the soul was made for God.

Jesus confirms that we are on the right track here by praying in John 17:24, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." The love of Jesus drives him to pray for us and then die for us, NOT that our value may be central, but that his glory may be central, and we may see it and savor it for all eternity. "That they may see My glory!" – for that he let Lazarus die, and for that he went to the cross.

By John Piper. ©Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 888.346.4700.

The Corrupting Power of Power

In her most recent article, Peggy Noonan wonders if there might be something in the water in Washington:

"How exactly does it work? How does legitimate self-confidence become wildly inflated self-regard? How does self respect become unblinking conceit? How exactly does one's character become destabilized in Washington?

The Supreme Court this week and last issued many rulings, and though they were on different issues the decisions themselves had at least one thing in common: They seemed to reflect a lack of basic human modesty on the part of many of the justices. Many are famously very old, and they have been together as a court for a very long time. One wonders if they have lost all understanding of how privileged they are to have lifetime sinecures of power and authority. Do they have any sense anymore of common human wisdom, of the normal human arrangements by which Americans live?

Maybe a lot of them aren't bothering to think. Maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg is no longer in the habit of listening to arguments but only of watching William Rehnquist, and if he nods up and down she knows to vote "no," and if he shakes his head she knows to vote "yes." That might explain some of the lack of seriousness in the decisions. Local government can bulldoze Grandma's house because it's in the way of a future strip mall that will add more to the tax base? The Ten Commandments can appear on public land but not in a courthouse, but Moses, who received the Ten Commandments can appear in the frieze of the House but he'll be sandblasted off the Supreme Court? Or do I have that the other way around?

What are they doing? All this hair splitting, this dithering, this cutting and pasting--all this lack of serious and defining principle. All this vanity.

Perhaps Justice Ginsburg or Justice Stevens will retire soon and write a memoir: Like Jefferson I held to principle, and like Lincoln I often lacked air conditioning. But in my intellectual gifts I've always found myself to be more like Oliver Wendell Holmes . . .

What is in the air there in Washington, what is in the water?

What is wrong with them? This is not a rhetorical question. I think it is unspoken question No. 1 as Americans look at so many of the individuals in our government. What is wrong with them?"

Read it here.